Plan UK patron calls for better communication over disaster appeals

A survey by the charity found most people thought appeals should stick to the facts

Five-month old Wibmy lives in a tent in Haiti. Photograph: Plan International/Benita Jean-Louis
Five-month old Wibmy lives in a tent in Haiti. Photograph: Plan International/Benita Jean-Louis

Aid agencies must work more effectively with journalists to communicate disaster appeals to the public, according to a patron of the international children’s development charity Plan UK.

A survey commissioned by the charity found that 58 per cent of a representative sample of more than 2,000 British adults said media coverage of disasters was too sentimental and sensationalist and should report only the facts.

Sir John Holmes, patron of Plan UK, said: "Aid agencies need to learn how to communicate more effectively, and journalists need to understand better the dynamics of disaster and what is necessary and possible in terms of aid."

At an event in London last night to mark the launch of the research, a panel of media and international aid experts discussed how aid agencies and the media could best work together to communicate with the public.

The debate was held under the Chatham House rule, which means individuals can be quoted but not named.

"The relationship between the media and aid agencies is complicated," said one panel member. "They need each other but are suspicious of each other."

Another panel member said aid agencies should stop sending out boring press releases, but at the same time journalists needed to better understand how aid works.

"Communications must be as simple as possible to be effective," said another. "Not simplistic, though. The more complexities you introduce, the more difficult it becomes to elicit support."

Others disagreed and said there was an appetite for more information among the public.

The poll, carried out by the polling company ComRes, also found that 78 per cent of respondents thought news coverage of humanitarian disasters was generally fair and neutral.

It found that 62 per cent of respondents thought coverage of children affected by disasters was particularly compelling. Fifty-nine per cent said they found coverage focused on an individual or a family the most compelling.

The poll also found that of the people who had donated to a charity in response to coverage, which was 36 per cent, only one in five had received any communication about how their money was being spent.

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